Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Well, What Do You Believe In?

After explaining to someone recently that I simply did not believe in the existence of any gods, my companion confronted me—with a suggestion of smugness—by posing the question, "Well, what do you believe in?"
Tucked away in the question What do you believe in? is the insinuation that one must have faith in something beyond what the senses convey. To which we skeptics say, Why? How is it having faith in the unfathomable has become a prerequisite for finding meaning and purpose in life? Many would argue that acknowledging something greater than ourselves relieves us of our sense of self-importance, and that in so doing we achieve a genuine humility. Daring to speak for others, the entity greater than ourselves many of us skeptics look to is community—each other in the aggregate.
It seems the theist’s definition of “believe” implies that the object of belief must be beyond what our senses can convey and our ability to reason can affirm. Whereas, we who are constrained by rational thinking feel that anything worth believing in, by definition, should be precisely the things our senses can convey and our ability to reason can affirm.
In other words, my friend, I believe you are sitting in a chair across the table asking me questions. Why? Because my senses convey as much. I also believe that if I drop a stone from a tall building it will fall to the pavement. Why? Because I have reasoned that the effects of gravity suggest it is the likely outcome.
The feeling I so often get is that we who do not possess a blind faith in something beyond the rational are less deserving of the full complement of life's redeeming values, as if it were somehow morally advantageous to have faith in something beyond our ability to comprehend if not supernatural altogether. Yes, it is the morally condescending attitude so many religious people possess and convey that manages to infiltrate and disable our otherwise benign dispositions. Have faith in whatever you want, but understand that believing and knowing are two different things.
The closest thing to a blind faith I possess is what I believe about our capacity to love and our willingness to help those who have never been properly loved. It may be a stretch, but I do indeed believe love can make a difference. 


  1. Love is the answer. I also believe in helping others in many ways. I too have been told I am bipolar. Wee isnt it fun. I do own 3 internet businesses. I have 3 for 2 reasons. First they all help others in some way. and second because I become bored easily if I only have one thing to focus on. You may check them out and most of what I earn from all 3 of them goes to rescued animals. and You need to make your way in life without harming others.

  2. A very beautiful observation, that believers consider it necessary to believe in something beyond the rational, beyond the senses. They consider this meritorious, while knowledge and reason in the absence of supernatural insistence is meaningless and devoid of life's redeeming values.

  3. Heh, the chance you can actually make a believer understand that atheists aren`t satanists or lost souls that will burn in whatever hell their religion imagines is so low... I was having the same discussion with a friend a couple of days ago and I got from him the same reaction I usually get in these situations... "oh, you must be such a lonely person, how can you not believe in anything". And this person was one of the more intelligent ones. Those really indoctrinated almost put a sock in your mouth so they don`t even hear such a "blasphemy".
    You`d think that such a group that is told to be good and so on would actually be more understanding than us nonbelievers, but they never are. And they don`t even see the irony in it. Anyway, i`m starting to ramble. I actually wanted to say that I really enjoyed your article and was so happy to stumble upon it.

  4. Atharis: Great points. These religious people have no idea just how condescending they are being, do they? They can believe what they want—just spare us the attitude!